Page images
PDF
EPUB

of commons the personalities of the fallen dignitary’s most inveterate enemies, particularly of serjeant Pengelly. Lord Macclesfield was, however, fortunate that he lived in an age when very many members of either house had excellent reasons for regarding corruption as by no means an unpardonable sin; so that the clamor against him was not so loud as his frauds and his extortions were well worthy to raise. The fine of thirty thousand pounds, which was the punishment awarded him by his fellow peers, was but a small portion of the sum he had amassed by his peculations; and to the disgrace of the time, his conviction neither debarred him from the countenance of the great, nor even, if report speaks true, from the favor of the court. Of sir Philip Yorke's general conduct as one of the law officers of the crown, lord Chesterfield speaks in the following terms:—“Though he was solicitor and attorneygeneral, he was by no means what is called a prerogative lawyer. He loved the constitution, and maintained the just prerogative of the crown, but without stretching it to the oppression of the people. He was naturally humane, moderate, and decent; and when, by his employments, he was obliged to prosecute state criminals, he discharged that duty in a very different manner from most of his predecessors, who were too justly called the bloodhounds of the crown.” Horace Walpole has given him a very different character; but he has taken so little pains to disguise his prejudices with regard to most of those he is pleased to vituperate, and in particular his rancorous and inveterate hatred against Yorke, that his testimony would be of little or no weight, even were it not contradicted by irrecusable evidence, and in some instances by his own admissions. Thus, in speaking of an after-period of this great lawyer's life, when, as lord high steward, he presided at the trial of the rebel lords who had taken arms in the service of the Pretender, he tells us that his demeanor towards the noble prisoners was that of a low-born upstart, proud of an opportunity to evince his loyalty by insulting his fallen superiors. But this accusation is entirely disproved by the very full and minute report of the proceedings, wherein, though every word he uttered seems to be noted down with scrupulous accuracy, we find nothing to corroborate the charge. It is evident, that lord Orford was not sufficiently on his guard against the danger to which those who deviate from truth are continually running the risk of exposing themselves, namely, that of unwarily betraying their own general want of veracity, by an occasional adherence to real facts wholly incompatible with the imaginary occurrences they have chosen to invent. In one part of his memoirs, for example, he plainly declares of lord Hardwicke, that “in the house of lords he was laughed at, in the cabinet, despised:” but the very same work affords us many previous instances, which, by the author's own showing, make it very plain that his opinion was of considerable weight in either place. This is a tolerable illustration of the proverbial aphorism, that a good memory is particularly necessary to those who have little regard to veracity. Although Yorke had owed his first introduction into parliament principally to the offices of his early patron, lord Macclesfield, it is believed that he was more directly indebted for it to the favor of the duke of Newcastle. At all events, it is certain that he attached himself very early in his career to this powerful nobleman, of whose influence in the councils of the nation, he afterwards did not fail to avail himself. A connection with the family of the Pelhams led to one with sir Robert Walpole, so that he secured to himself the support of a party which, for his singular good fortune and its own, though, perhaps, not equally so for that of the country, contrived to keep itself in power till he had arrived at an age when power was, or might well be, indifferent to him. Thus, while some of his legal competitors were impoverished by the heavy charges of their elections, his own fortune never suffered from any such cause of expenditure. Whether he sat for Lewes or for Seaford, he was invariably returned under the auspices of the ministry, without either cost or trouble. After having held the office of attorney-general during nearly ten years, an opportunity offered itself for further promotion. The great seal was resigned in October, 1733, by lord King, who had succeeded the earl of Macclesfield on the woolsack: and the chief justiceship of the king's bench was vacant at the same time by the death of lord Raymond. It was generally expected, that, according to the usual forms of precedence, the higher of these offices would be offered to Yorke, and that the place of chief justice would fall to the share of Mr. Talbot, the solicitor-general. It proved, however, otherwise. Mr. Talbot, having devoted himself more exclusively than his colleague to chancery practice, was held to be, if possible, still more eligible as a chancellor than the attorney-general, the duties of whose office had latterly caused him to be employed much more generally in the common law than in the equity courts, and had consequently qualified him in a greater degree for presiding in the king's bench. Talbot was ambitious, and so, no doubt, was Yorke; but the ambition of the latter was very much qualified and tempered by prudence, and if he thirsted after eminent dignities, he was still more desirous that they should be permanent and secure. Now the chancellorship, he well knew, though a place of higher dignity and emolument than that of chief justice, was held by a much more precarious tenure. He was, consequently, not altogether indisposed to give up his pretensions to a seat on that unsteady pinnacle of legal preferment, the woolsack; the rather that he would resign them in favor of one with whom he lived on terms of the strictest friendship and intimacy. There only remained one obstacle to be got over. The predominant foible of Yorke's character was the love of money; and it was with difficulty he could make up his mind to forego his claims upon one place, for the sake of putting up with another much less lucrative. This objection was, however, obviated by sir Robert Walpole. He offered to increase the salary of Yorke, as chief justice, from two thousand to four thousand pounds a year, (the salary then, and indeed till very lately, forming only a small portion of the emoluments of the office ;) and upon Yorke refusing to accept this augmentation as a distinction personal to himself, it was made permanent to his successors on the bench. This compromise, together with the promise of a peerage, entirely reconciled the attorney-general to the loss of the chancellorship, which was accordingly conferred on the solicitor general, with the rank of lord Talbot. Yorke took his seat in the king's bench, and was shortly afterwards called to the upper house by the title of baron Hardwicke, of Hardwicke, in the county of Gloucester. He retained the office of chief justice nearly three years and a half (7, 8, 9 and 10 Geo. 2,) during which period he did not fail to add largely to his former reputation. His colleagues in office were Lee (who succeeded him as chief justice), Probyn and Page. The cases argued and adjudged by them have been collected and published by Mr. Lee of Gray’s Inn, whose single volume might serve as an honorable monument of lord Hardwicke's judicial ability, even were there no other testimony of it on record; not that any but a very imperfect idea can be derived from such a publication as this, of the copiousness of argument, or the elegance of illustration, much less of the graces of manner and diction, for which we are assured the lord chief justice was so eminently conspicuous. Of the extent of his legal knowledge, however, and the acuteness of his intellect, this book contains very sufficient evidence. Indeed, to preserve WOL. XXV.-NO, XLIX, 2

the substance, and, as it were, to condense the essence of the legal arguments employed, has been, as it certainly deserved to be, the chief object of the author of these reports; though he might, perhaps, without prejudice to this the most important part of his task, have bestowed more attention on the minor accessories of uniformity of arrangement and of style. The cases bear evident marks of being not only written at different times, which, of course, they necessarily must be, but in some instances, published from the hasty notes taken in court, without the degree of care in the revision which would have been necessary to reduce them to the same uniform standard of concision or development. In some lord Hardwicke is made to deliver his judgment in the first person, in others he speaks in the third; and some, as for example that of Holmes and Gordon, are reported with such evident haste and negligence, that the first person and the third are indiscriminately employed. Perhaps the best specimens, and those which may be supposed to give the most distinct idea of lord Hardwicke's style, are the cases on which he delivers the opinion of the court. Lord Hardwicke was so well satisfied with his situation as chief justice of the king's bench, which, indeed, he filled with no less honor to himself than advantage to the country, that upon the death of lord Talbot (February 14th, 1737), he testified considerable reluctance to resign it for the chancellorship. Sir Robert Walpole was anxious to have him placed on the woolsack, and he combated all the objections of the unwilling judge, with the earnestness of a man bent on carrying his point. Still his arguments appeared to produce little or no effect. The expediency of giving up that which was certain and secure, for the sake of being put in possession of what was unstable and precarious, could not be made clear to the comprehension of the chief justice, and he persisted in declaring himself averse

« PreviousContinue »